Chapter Six, Bored and Stupid go Hand in Hand.
Prairie spent the greater part of the day holed up in her room recovering. When she’d been retrieved to do her work on the throne she acted listless and somewhat dazed, and always returned to her room afterward. It wasn’t worrying enough for the other members of the house to make sure she was alright. After being so soundly trounced by Solomon they figured she just had a case of the blues and wanted to spend time alone.
In truth, they were exactly correct. After the banquet people usually calmed down and her daily duties got shorter allowing her more free time. She didn’t feel like going to get much done. She supposed if she felt sore over her defeat she’d just get some manner of petty revenge later anyways. It was the sure fire way to get her mood back into good spirits, but even now she didn’t feel like it.
Prairie’s personal room, in the depths of the vault, was a dark place. As it had with the secret keepers before it, this room reflected the aspects of Prairie’s psyche and painted the walls, and furnishings in her liking. No vault was ever the same as another, each piece collecting inside the owner’s mind and then manifesting itself onto the floor.
The only source of light in the back came from the fireplace, and the only noise from the clock on the hearth. This one she had particularly liked. The ticking was appropriately loud for her tastes, bouncing off the walls just far enough never to be out of earshot. Even if it didn’t work, like all of Reddle’s clocks, and clocks in general for that matter, its dark wooden finish, small shape, and regal hands felt just at home over the brick and mortar fireplace.
Other than that it was sparsely furnished. Prairie kept a bed in the darkest corner for her to sleep in. The rest of the room was filled with ghostly images of shelves, supplies, and tall bookcases, glowing a faint white along the edges of the room, and equally cloaked in the dark choking the room. They weren’t truly there, only vague memories now. The only real furniture aside from her bed were the armchairs and coffee table she rested in now, in front of the fire.
She had spent a great deal of time ruminating on her thoughts after the banquet. The things Solomon said, the things she had said in response, all of them had meaning for them. With her memories in the sorry state they were in she needed to create, and more importantly retain, everything she managed to learn here. Even at the time she transcended the plane she would have prepared herself enough to make sure her memories of this place never failed her. She swore to herself they wouldn’t.
Just then there was a knock on her door. Content to ignore it she continued to stare blankly into the fire. The flames didn’t give off any heat, nor did they burn anything. A flickering light show with the promise and failure to provide warmth or comfort. This room had existed in her first life. Even now, the flames being unnatural, still made her feel more at home and safe than she ever had in her original life.
The second knock got her attention, focus coming back into her eyes as she turned her head very slightly towards it. If they were impatient they would knock a third time. But apparently there had been a delay between the second knock and her hearing it, as the next indication she got of company was someone pinching the cheek opposite of the one turned towards the door. Her arms flapped uselessly against the mystery assailant before she recognized the chuckling.
“You’re supposed to wait until I let you in Agni!” Prairie said, slapping his arm away and putting her hands over her cheeks. Agni, circling the chair and moving for the one opposite her settled himself down and got comfortable. “I knocked twice. I figured waiting those five minutes after the second one meant you were ignoring me like you’ve been doing the others, or that I’d get to watch you sleeping.” Agni crossed his legs and leaned back, laughing at the glare Prairie was shooting him. “Look you’ve been holed up in here nearly a week. You’re not going sentimental on all of us are you?”
Prairie sighed and resumed relaxing herself. “I’ve been thinking. This and that. It’s not about the banquet if that’s what anyone’s thinking. Didn’t anyone tell you vaults should be restricted to house members only?” she asked, looking back at the fireplace and smirking. Agni pawed around his vest to find the pocket holding his cigarettes. “Yeah, well, special dragon privilege.” he said, putting one in his mouth and lighting it with a match. “Anywhere there’s fire I can be. That and your guards don’t seem concerned.” he said waving to the fireplace. “Come to think of it I’ve never been in here before. I figured getting mauled by the gray mane beast was an occupational hazard and got brave.” Agni glanced around the room, at the dark and gloom. “Homey.” he commented.
Prairie smiled lightly. “You’ll find the definition of “homey” was radically different where I came from. A home was more a castle to display someone like me to the nobles that ran my home city.” She looked at Agni he gave her a look to continue. “No. I won’t get into it. All for power. I mean, I’m not any different here than I was in life. Maybe happier.” Prairie raised her hands and flexed them, looking over the way they moved underneath her gloves. After a moment of consideration she took her gloves off and held her hands up into the light. Both of them were pitch black. “Both of my arms are painted completely black with my seals. It’s a lot like my memory. It’s as if someone just dumped a giant bucket of black paint over my entire life just to shut it out. These are another reminder of that too.” Her hands rested on the arms of her chair and she looked back to the fire. Agni, letting her take a moment, did the same, but he tapped his glasses higher on his nose and looked closer into the flames.
Aside from the fact the flames were fake, which he could tell, he saw two urns, a handful of bones, and a human skull resting in the flames. His eyes narrowed. “Hey Prairie?” He waved his hands towards the spectacle and all she did was scoff at mentioning them. After a moment or two she looked at Agni. “Have you ever heard the way I died Agni?” she asked, getting a look from him before he shook his head. “I heard it has to do with the eye patch you wear.” Prairie nodded and stood, moving over to the fireplace. “If you look carefully into the left eye of this skull you’ll see the hole shattered into the back of it. I was strong enough to survive the first one. It just got stuck against my skull and hung there like a throbbing reminder I should have dropped dead.”
Agni shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “So you’re telling me those are your bones in there?” Prairie looked at him and nodded. “This entire room was my room back in my old home, stowed away in the basement. They moved me there after my powers showed up. The marks and hole, the place, it’s all too convenient, and I don’t believe it’s a metaphor or anything. The room just filled this way.” She took a deep breath. “Listen, I don’t tell a lot of people this story. Riley’s the only other one who knows it.” she said, moving back to her chair. “But I think you know how to hold on to a few secrets, so, I’ll let you in on it. The gray beast isn’t so impressive when you learn why she is one.”
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerve, she took a good deal of time to gather her thoughts, then she looked at Agni. “Would you believe I was the daughter of a haberdasher?” she asked, getting a sudden laugh out of Agni. Prairie raised her eyebrows at his outburst and he waved his cigarette at her. “Come on! Here I was expecting the whole grim reality approach and you lead in with how your father made hats for a living.” He burst out laughing again. “I was under the impression this wasn’t going to be very pleasant right from the get go. Surprising me like that.” Coughing a few times he waved for her to proceed.
“It’s not like my entire life was hell. He and his neighbor worked together. The most exciting thing they ever had to talk about was what a revolution new cloth making techniques were and how it would make their business better. They also fussed almost daily about marriage. I don’t recall my mother but I knew she was in the picture. Eventually she must have died though.” Prairie commented, her voice trailing off. “I don’t see her in my later memories. As a matter of fact I don’t recall her much at all. Not even her face.” Prairie let out a bitter laugh. “Which is painful because she might have been the only positive thing I had.” She sighed away her strain. “Anyways, after she passed away it wasn’t too long before I discovered, well. Me. My powers manifested themselves after I turned eleven or so, and after that everyone wanted a piece. After all...” Prairie changed her position and tossed her hair, trying to look temporarily demure. “I’m quite the catch. But the nobles come into the picture after that. There was a particularly insistent one named Harbrom amongst them.” She looked at Agni directly. “No relation. I know someone with the name appeared here but he wasn’t of consequence. Harbrom was a piece of work that had a high position in the office of the occult run by our local government. Of course you wouldn’t know that just looking at him.” Prairie slumped back into her seat. “He always had his two flunkies with him. I don’t even recall their names. Scum. As the noble caste was starting to pull itself out of government he was the one who scrambled to attain as much personal power as he could. Once the gravy train ended and the country became fully capitalist he would have to work harder for his lot. Something he didn’t want to do. He liked his fancy house and his fancy autocad. Take those away he was just another slimeball.”
Agni tapped the ashes from his cigarette into a small porcelain container he carried with him. His kingdom for a proper ashtray. “Wait, sorry. Autocad?” Prairie shrugged. “Same as Reddle’s truck. Only, well, that one runs on liquids I think, didn’t it?” Prairie shrugged. “Anyways, Harbrom got it into his head that with a pretty young wife with super powers would win him out when he applied for trinity. A short fat man with tall skinny dreams of becoming a high noble through terror and force. A mad scramble for the final prize. Or maybe his delusions.”
Prairie chuckled bitterly. “The first time he visited me, he tried to be sweet and kind.” Agni was already laughing. “Precisely. Can you imagine a fifty year old potato man trying to woo me? I was thirteen or so. I had other things on my mind than that fat man, not including the fact I’d gotten into a real mess when my strength showed up. The second time, and this is the part that surprised me, he told me his plans directly. That didn’t fly over well either. See I’d made it a point to say I didn’t like or trust the nobles. Hell every time they rolled through our town all they really left behind was misery.
I guess he took that as an indication I wanted to get back at them, thus spilling his whole plan to me. When that didn’t work either he tried to ply me with bribes. It was honestly somewhat fascinating that he had the nerve to keep returning. He really wanted my strength. Even magic power paled in comparison, especially since I absorb those sorts of things rather well. But it wasn’t me that had troubles with Harbrom’s tricks.”
Agni snubbed his cigarette and began searching for the next one. It was simply one of his constant features. To be honest he could quit any time, but the smell and the burn reminded him of his native likings. Prairie had always liked that about him, even if it was a bad habit, Agni wanted to remember home. “He went after your father.” Agni stated, putting the pieces together.
“Precisely.” Prairie replied, her tone getting sadder. “I don’t blame him. Harbrom was a very rich and influential man. If any person in the world was promised their worries would disappear under a pile of money and favors, who wouldn’t take it?” Agni shook his head. “Something could be said about selling your soul.” he quipped, but Prairie continued. “Money, potential new wives, assets, whatever my father could possibly want was placed in front of him. It started subtle, you know. My father was kept out of the loop on things, so all he saw was a gentleman suitor and the favors that rolled in as Harbrom convinced him he was making progress with me. My father didn’t accept most of them, and never money.
But eventually it got to the point where I was fed up. I couldn’t simply tell my father. The first time I did that ended so badly I couldn’t face it again. But then we all had a meeting together. You know, to arrange the wedding and all, and it was about that time my father started to see something was really off. When Harbrom left that day I had the same discussion with my father again. Like I said, I don’t blame him. We ran from the city that afternoon and tried to get away into the countryside.”
Prairie turned to look at Agni and she was smiling brightly. “That’s when I found my namesake. See, we moved to a place far enough out you didn’t even see any mining operations for telecite.” Agni wagged a cigarette at her. “There you go using words again.” Prairie laughed. “Telecite was how we powered our machines. Rock and metal ores that absorbed the magnetism in the planet and began to store it as energy.” Agni lit his new cigarette and nodded. That’s why Reddle’s truck was new to her. “Middle of nowhere, and even then it wasn’t far enough. Out there the fields of wheat, the rolling hills and rocks, and my namesake, prairies of endless waving grass.” she chuckled. “It’s no surprise. With my memory as it is, I don’t recall my own first name anymore either. So the last memory became the first, and here she is, Prairie. A girl in the middle of nowhere. I’m glad Ariadne named me.”
Prairie waved her hand as she rolled along. “It wasn’t far enough. Harbrom didn’t like being had either. It still took him a few months to get an idea where we were. By that time I guess he didn’t want to play games any more. True to his reputation, the both of us were taken from our home that night, and driven out into the wastes. When the sack had come off my head it was already sunrise, and we were so far out into the grasslands it was impossible someone would come out that far. He didn’t have a lot to say. Typical bad guy talk.”
Prairie stopped a moment, Agni waiting patiently and quietly. “He threatened our lives. When my father resisted he put three bullets right into his torso.” Prairie was pausing more often, but keeping her emotions in check. “I watched him die there on the ground, convulsing like he was a wild animal being put down. Harbrom’s goon didn’t hesitate.” Prairie looked up at the ceiling. “And when I swore I would never cooperate, Harbrom pointed the gun at me. He’d spent years trying, and finally I suppose he’d had enough. He pulled the trigger.” Prairie’s hands came up and began taking her eye patch off. It only took her a moment even though it was secured tightly, then turning towards Agni she brushed her hair aside.
Prairie’s face been blasted in where the gun had fired, scorching and tearing the flesh. Here in Cie however it was simply a deep blackened recess where her eye used to be. Turning her head away again she looked back to the fire, where Agni couldn’t look at it more, letting her hair fall over it. “What I remember next is fuzzy too. I woke up near dusk with my father long cold in front of me and...”
Agni waited for a few moments, but realizing this wasn’t a dramatic pause... “That’s it huh? Story ends there?” Prairie took a few moments and sighed. “As far as I can tell. The rest is-- Screaming. Fire. Bones” She took in a deep breath and sighed in a frustrated manner,waving to the fireplace. “That’ll be pleasant to remember, I’m sure. The sole hope I can think of is maybe knowing my real name. Like I said, my mother was maybe the only nice thing I recall, but I get the feeling she said my name much nicer.”
Agni didn’t find a reason to disagree. The pair spent the next few moments quietly, letting Prairie sort out her thoughts, and Agni smoke. Agni couldn’t be said to have had a simple life either, but all the talk of higher classes and forced favors was all too familiar to him as well. Maybe not quite as exaggeratedly dramatic as Prairie’s, at least he didn’t think so. “Believe me, Prairie, I think I can relate to the story.” The pair exchanged a look, Agni nodding to her. At least it brought back a bit of a smile to her face.
“What are you even doing here?” Prairie asked, looking towards the door cloaked in the dark of the room. “Just come to check on me? You’d think at least one guard in this house would be motivated in doing their job.” Agni chuckled and replied. “Well maybe I came to check on you. No one can prove it though, besides, apparently Jessie’s attempts have been turned away. What words did he use again... Feminine humors or something antiquated like that.” The pair shared a laugh. “But apparently he wants to see you in the entry hall.” Prairie scoffed. “And he sent you?” Agni looked away from her before slipping from his seat. “So maybe we drew straws to see which one of us the beast would eat. Besides, all your complaining is weird.”
Prairie turned in her chair and looked around the side at Agni’s retreating back. “Why would it be weird?” she asked, getting Agni to pause and puff out his chest. “Well hey, you’re not the only catch in the room. I was a hit with the ladies back home. Even have a girl I’m sweet on.” Prairie ducked behind the chair again, laughing as Agni exited. Taking a moment to think on the conversation they had she got to her feet and moved for the door herself. “But we both know home is no longer relevant.” she said, not understanding how hopeful she sounded. It was high time to see what the mother superior wanted. Prairie stopped at the door with a squeak however, and dashed back to her chair to retrieve her eye patch first. Riley was starting to rub off on her.
What greeted Prairie’s eye when she came into the entry hall was something that filled her heart with honest to goodness warmth. Paint and small explosives filled with the same. Large barrels filled with marbles and half the gray manor all collected in one place, talking and planning and whispering devilishly. As she took in all the supplies that were gathered she already knew the plan. Leaping up the stairs from where she was she planted her hands on her hips and laughed like a movie villain. The crowd turned to view her and began getting more excited. Turning her eye on each one in turn very slowly crossing the crowd, Prairie’s grin got wider and wider until it was truly wicked. She then thrust her finger into the air. “Operation Girly Sunset begins before the hour!”
It was sunset on a day like any other. The red district’s streets were filled with its people, shopping, eating, drinking, visiting laughing and talking. No one would have expected anything to happen so soon after the banquet. In fact, the usual revenge schemes had come and gone in people’s minds. But Prairie had only been dormant for a week, and the district was on edge wondering what would come next, or if it would ever come at all. The surprise, naturally, still worked.
Members of the gray house of every size and shape and ability flooded through the gates leading into the district, setting off paint bombs nearby behind the pillars and covering the tower guard golems that watched each side. They didn’t seem to mind. Anything that wasn’t permanent damage or a full siege wasn’t even sniffed at by them. A few geysers of paint flooding the skies only caused terror in the populace, not them.
Denizens of the district screamed and ran out of the way like they were in a haunted house, trying desperately to avoid being painted. In the middle of the swarm Prairie approached, letting others rush forwards and do all the work. She’d already settled her feelings on the banquet, so now all that was left was to fulfill her kingly duties and lead her people to conquest in their endeavors. And if the whole of the red district and its people had to turn pink to make House Gray happy, she was all for it.
They avoided children or people sitting aside of the ordeal, though even those people weren’t safe from the sounds and sights of bombs going off in the air and spreading sticky pink rain onto the streets like a species made of cake frosting were being purged. Reddle peeked out of his shop and moved to stand next to Prairie chewing on a piece of beef jerky. “Righteous vengeance?” he asked, Prairie nodding and starting to laugh like a villain again, sweeping her hands out wide and taking it all in. Reddle chuckled. “Okay okay. Maybe not so righteous. Hehe... Look.” he commented, pointing to a pair of kids fighting between each other with paint on their hands, marking their clothes and faces and hair, anything they could grab at as they wrestled and giggled.
Prairie was beaming at the pair as well when a pillar of fire appeared near the gate leading into the red manor. “Oops. Kings mad.” She said, crossing her arms and watching the fire continue into the sky until it could no longer retain its shape and dispersed. Reddle just shook his head and went back into his shop, fully intent to avoid the bedlam and mess. Prairie caught hold of one of the invading grays and pointed silently towards the door to Reddle’s shop. Getting the clue the man grinned, nodded, and entered the shop. Soon the sounds of two loud booms went off, closely followed by a very loud “Dammit Prairie!” and the helper escaping into the streets for more fun as pink clouds wafted from the windows. Reddle was still a resident of this district!
She couldn’t contain her laugh, rolling up from her belly as she bent over and enjoyed herself. It’s what he got for being a red, on today of all days, and only today, so he would just have to cope with it. Prairie enjoyed the chaos, the camaraderie. Even if people here didn’t want to get along on the surface most of them had come to terms with being here. Any excitement in their lives was excitement they otherwise couldn’t experience in the city. A paint war was just right up their alley. In fact some of the reds in the district were fighting back with their own paint by now, covering the streets in even more color. Pity the frosting race, Prairie supposed.
But she caught something on the other side of her vision, Milly again. Seated in one of the grassy areas stuck into a back alley, she was once again using grass to make another crown, only now Prairie was sober, and her intuition kicked in. Something was off, and the moment she realized it the outcomes seemed obvious. Milly was talking happily. All alone. Prairie’s feet began to move over that direction, moving people aside as they joined in the ruckus. When she got close Milly looked up with a bright smile. “Prairie!”
Prairie looked around the sides of the streets for anyone, but not a single person was present. Milly saw her suspicion. “What’s wrong? Lost someone?” Milly asked, then smiling. “Oh! Here! You like them right?” she asked, holding up the crown to her. This time it was adorned by no less than five bellworth. Prairie moved in and accepted the crown, getting down on her knees in front of Milly and looking it over. Milly could see the concern on her face, and leaned forwards, asking more quietly this time. “Is something wrong?”
Prairie held the crown up. Milly didn’t need to be disturbed by this, but she could still ask. “Did you get these from the lady in black this time too?” she asked, her tone and expression changing, as if she were starting to cheer up. Milly’s smile came back as well and nodded. “She always carries a basket of them. She even gave me a special one this time.” Reaching down to her side she pulled out a rather small bellworth, the same customary steel gray at the bottom, but a bright and extremely vibrant blue at the top. “I like it cause it’s the same as her eyes.”
Prairie’s heart was fixing to burst from her chest and out of her throat. “I think I’ve met her before.” Prairie went on, trying hard to make sure she didn’t sound odd. “She has long black hair and bright blue eyes. She wears fur and a dress, right?” Milly’s nodding put fire in her heart, and not the sort that motivated you. Milly’s face was slowly falling again.
“Hey, listen, you hear all that noise? You want to help house gray win a victory in the paint war?” she asked, smiling again, though now it was clearly strained. “If you head out to the main street and ask someone I’m sure they’ll give you a brush. We’re doing pink this year.” Milly smiled, though in her mind, it was to be kind. “Just like Solomon’s dress?” she asked. That got a laugh out of Prairie. Milly went on. “We saw it already. He bought it from one of the shops in the green district and had to walk all the way back with it to his house.” Milly held her hands to her mouth. “I was trying so hard not to laugh so he wouldn’t get mad, but I’ve never seen a dress that big. Is he fat under all the armor?” Prairie smiled again. “All men are fat in dresses. Thank you for the crown.”
Placing it onto her head and waving Milly goodbye she stayed there for a moment or two. Her eye was focused on the ground and her mind was racing. She didn’t think it was probable. No, maybe she was convincing herself it was impossible. The dead didn’t come back to life even in this city, but they certainly came back. After a while Prairie’s breathing began to get heavier, panic settling on her face. She slowly curled over where she sat on her knees and gripped her chest and heart, trying desperately to calm it down. She felt like a terrified little girl.